Time Management: Perspective, Balance, and Flow

My career is rather ever-present in my life, and since it’s mixed with family working at home with a husband on the road quite often, time mastery was quickly moved up the list of priorities. Recently, I discovered something that I’ve always known, but at the same time, never completely clicked. My guilt was always pretty high when I would focus 100% of my mind on my job, yet be so mentally exhausted after 4-5 hours. Yes, I did Pomodoro’s in order to complete my personal kanban tasks, so I was still taking the breaks and being more intentional on task completion than ever. However, I still felt weary and ready to move on to something else in my life; yet I had 3-4 hours to go? Seriously? Then I step back for a second…notice my actions below are not tools motivated, but using tools only when appropriate to motivate time effectiveness. 

  • I have fine tuned my meeting schedule to be under 6 hours a week, an incredible feat for a director level position.
  • I have fine tuned my daughter’s education to be decently reliable and consistent.
  • I have fine tuned my kanban board (tool) processes to be so lean in itself that very little time is spent on actual logistics.
  • I have limited my email reading that used to explode on a regular basis to a point now where I usually have under 10 emails by the end of the day because of simply checking it a few times a day rather than every other second. Now, people often have the issue resolved before I even check email, meaning I get to archive a 8-message thread with a smirk on my face.
  • I use the Pomodoro Technique (tool) to complete any task in order to stay focused.

Shocked, I realise that my previously very long days were simply coordination at a peskily detailed level that was unnecessary because I was not proactive in how I handled my world. Reaction, as I’ve preached in the past, is the sheer cliff straight into the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno. Proactive seems initially painful though because it has upfront cost…that saves hours, days, or even weeks at the end. Also, keeping my iPhone in one place in the house and often “forgetting” it has lowered my “twitch” factor to a level of “oh, weird, I haven’t seen my phone in a while.” (The only exception is if I’m traveling while working.)

So is it too surprising that 4-5 hours of heavy Pomodoro project work is exhausting? The “little” things are no longer in control, and now, burning through project and project, I’m physically and mentally wiped out if I put in a full hour day, not to mention the doctoral research and writing I have to do after that? I started asking around. If you didn’t have the distractions [that I’ve minimised pretty strongly] in your office, how long would it take you to achieve your actual productive results. The response was simply happiness to have any productive results, or at perhaps a few hours of effective work at most. The stepping into the office, the phone ringing, the email buzzing, the meetings, and all the rest that keep people from being actually useful in the office.

My perspective and balance has changed dramatically as a result, changing my day’s flow incredibly. I don’t time box how long a task will take, I simply time box how much time I am willing to provide to an area of my life. It’s up to me to be effective with that time, motivating me to find better and better ways to accomplish those tasks in order to not see them returned or see them day after day.

  • Four hours worth of Pomodoro project / task work for job (emails and meetings are outside of this four hour time frame)
  • Consulting work is limited to one hours worth of Pomodoro’s, but rarely enough to truly require two hours
  • PhD work is runs between 1-2 hours worth of Pomodoro’s depending on where I am in the process

This has resulted in two things –

  1. You get a real picture of the time constraints for your career responsibilities, and this method put those responsibilities in their places, rather than controlling your life and family. There are projects that I am so passionate about in my career that I go beyond the limitations I placed above, but that only takes place out of pure choice and preference.
  2. This provides guiltless time with family and self.

I’ve never watercoloured this much before in my life, and I spend more time with my cello than I knew could be possible. Previously, I never considered the possibility to go out to lunch with my daughter. That would be unreasonable. Right? No, that should be normal. Yes, there is stress, willingness to make sacrifices, and situations where you have to suck it up, but those should be the minority, not the majority. If it is the majority, consider a complete mindset change of intentionality.

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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